South Africa’s Tech Future: Building Smart Cities through ICT Innovation
By Sylvester Samuel, Senior Strategic Sales Manager: Go 2 Market at T-Systems in South Africa
The concept of the ‘smart city’ has emerged as a term to describe a city that uses technology to address service delivery challenges. However, building a smart city is about more than just using technology; it is about ICT innovation and transformation that improves the quality of life of citizens.
People are at the heart of the smart city concept, and it offers benefits for all concerned, but delivering on this ideal requires all parties to be involved. Smart cities need not only Government commitment, but also engagement from citizens and the collaboration of the private sector in order to succeed.
A smart city is one with well-defined processes, connected by smart innovative technologies that enable citizens to experience all public services with ease and low cost, fuelling economic development to stimulate a high quality life for all.
From basic service delivery provision of water and electricity, to ease of mobility within a city across public and private transport, to the ability to provide quality healthcare and education to all citizens, smart cities are all about making the lives of citizens better and easier.
The success of the smart city concept can be seen in T-City, a collaboration between T-Systems, Deutsche Telekom and Friedrichshafen, a city in Germany.
The aim of T-City was to utilise technological innovation to achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of life in the city. The initiative ran for five years, from 2008 to 2012, and during that time more than 40 projects were implemented across education, transport, tourism and culture, business, smart metering and energy, healthcare and more.
An area broadly based on eGovernment was also implemented to improve the efficiency of administrative processes for residents and businesses. The city acted as a showcase for innovative ICT technology, demonstrating how such technology can improve the quality of life within the city.
Broadband connectivity lay at the heart of the success of T-City. By connecting each and every citizen, they were empowered to access a wide variety of additional services online, including purchasing tickets, paying bills and so on. Internet-based learning and virtual classrooms were implemented and textbooks were made accessible online, extending education to all.
An integrated emergency number ensured citizens could always get hold of the relevant services with ease. Through connectivity and connected smart devices, the Government was also able to gain feedback. Smart metering solutions enabled monitoring of electricity consumption as well as more effective billing and processing.
Public transport systems became more efficient, and a single ticketing system not only delivered valuable data to Government, but was also highly convenient for citizens.
Benefits for South Africa
While T-City was conceptualised and demonstrated in a first world country in Europe, the lessons learned from this project can be localised and made relevant for the South African market. Connectivity is the foundation for the delivery of smart services, whether it is delivered via mobile, wireless, fibre or satellite, and this fact remains the same regardless of location.
The basic needs of people also remains the same, regardless of their location; access to water, electricity, education and healthcare are fundamental human needs that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries. These areas are all aspects that can be successfully addressed using the smart city concept.
At the heart of the smart city is the ability to connect the dots between ICT and basic services, and to innovate in using technology to deliver better services to citizens.
For example, a library in the city of Johannesburg can become so much more than just a repository of old books. Using technology it can be transformed into a multimedia centre with computers that can be used to improve education, and also for a host of other areas such as paying municipal rates and accessing other services.
While ICT and broadband connectivity are critical components, technology is simply the enabler of the smart city eco system. Building a real smart city requires a holistic view – one that includes changing cultures and behaviours alongside the introduction of enabling technology.
Hand-in-and with this is a requirement for collaboration between Government and the private sector, and the need to incorporate innovative ways to fund socio-political development objectives to achieve economic transformation in South Africa.
Private sector has the technology and process skills required, and needs to work with Government to achieve a long-term sustainable vision for the South African economy. In addition, cities and municipalities need to stop working in isolated siloes, but share processes and lessons learned to permeate success across the country, and create interconnected systems that can then add value to all citizens of South Africa.
The smart city also requires the buy-in of communities and citizens. Active participation of both the Government and its communities is essential in creating the two-way feedback that makes the smart city a success.
Cultural change management is essential in ensuring people adopt new solutions - awareness of technology, education around the benefits of new solutions, and the assurance that all personal information will be kept secure are just some of the issues that need to be tackled.
Local needs, global relevance
The smart city is mutually beneficial to both public and private sectors, as well as citizens themselves. It promotes collaboration and transformation, which in turn stimulates economic growth, more intelligent use of resources, access to up to date information, and the creation of jobs and skills.
Intelligent management of natural resources is made possible through participatory action and engagement. Citizens can access self-help services to ensure effective collaboration between the public and the municipality. Enhanced information security and a cohesive system at a Government level reduces the chances of identity theft. Revenue can be assured, and services can be cost effectively delivered, benefiting all parties.
These are but a few examples of the advantage of the smart city. By working together, public and private sector can collaborate on the transformation of municipalities and the country as a whole, using innovative technology as an enabler.
By localising global innovations to fit local needs, South Africa can remain relevant on a global stage while improving the lives of all citizens and meeting its service delivery obligations.
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.